December 21, 2014

Elyria
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Homeowner offers $25,000 reward after fire

WELLINGTON TWP. — The owner of a home that burned to the ground early Sunday said the fire was set and is offering a $25,000 reward to help catch the arsonist.

Donald Bilbrey said the loss from the fire at 20440 West Road is $500,000 including his $300,000 home and $200,000 in contents. The fire was called in at 3:07 a.m., according to Wellington Fire Chief Robert Walker.

The two-story home was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived, and they needed about an hour to contain the blaze, Walker said.

Walker said the fire began on the first floor near the front door and that electricity and gas to the house were off.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation, but Bilbrey said he is convinced it was arson and said the home was burglarized twice prior to the fire. He said he hopes the reward will generate tips.

“We are pretty convinced that someone will know something when their friend shows up with some expensive new toys,” Bilbrey said from his home in Phoenix. “This was our life. Baby pictures, important papers and everything we loved. So it’s easy to say it has us pretty frustrated.”

Bilbrey lived with his wife, daughter and granddaughter in the home, but they are frequently in Arizona. Early Sunday, they received a phone call alerting them to the fire.

He estimated thieves took about $40,000 worth of belongings including his wife’s jewelry, a stereo system and several all-terrain vehicles.

Bilbrey said neighbors have learned the following vehicles were stolen: a 2003 Yamaha 660 Raptor limited edition black four-wheeler, 2000 Yamaha 350 4×4 Wolverine blue four-wheeler, 2004 Honda 400 EX red four-wheeler, 2003 Scag 61-inch zero-turn riding lawn mower, 1999 16-foot utility trailer with back gate and 4-wheel tandem and a 1995 red, purple and white Honda XR 100 dirt bike.

Bilbrey said his 6-acre lot is in a remote area, making it vulnerable.

“These kids know we come and go a lot and had a lot of stuff,” Bilbrey said. “It’s an ideal place to loot and burn.”

Anyone with any information is being asked to call the Lorain County Sheriff’s Office at (440) 329-3801.

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.